By GREG MENGELT
FLOYDS KNOBS — Providence shut out Oldenburg Academy 2-0 and Forest Park 1-0 in overtime at Saturday’s Class A Floyd Central Semistate to earn its first state final berth.
A year after a crushing 2-1 defeat at the hands of Covenant Christian in the semistate championship, the young 15-6-1 Pioneers came back to finished the job on Saturday.
“We felt the heartbreak last year,” Providence senior Brent Hesse said. “That gave us more motivation to get back and get to the state finals.”
“It’s every freshman’s dream your senior year to get to go to the state finals with a chance to win,” Providence senior Evan Hollkamp said. “It’s unreal right now.”
Providence coach Brandon Rogers said he isn’t sure if this year’s team could have come through two hard-fought games without last year’s squad getting to the semistate.
“Last year’s team paved the way for us,” Rogers said. “The fact of the matter is we had been here. We weren’t going to settle for just making it here. Our goal all year long was the state finals and a state championship. It’s not over yet. I can’t stress that enough.”
The Pioneers will face top-ranked Guerin Catholic (17-2-3) at Carroll Stadium on the campus of IUPUI in Indianapolis at 1 p.m. for the state championship next Saturday. Guerin, which is located in Carmel, beat No. 2 Fort Wayne Luers 2-1 in overtime to reach state.
“It’s going to be a really tough game,” senior goalkeeper Jeff Wiles said. “[Guerin] is going to give it their all and that’s what we need to do, too.”
“We’re in the state finals now and anything can happen,” Hesse added.
After a 9-6-1 regular season, the Pioneers have outscored seven postseason opponents by a combined 20-0.
“I would not have thought we could have gotten to this point with all shutouts,” Rogers said. “It speaks to our upperclassmen stepping up.”
“That’s the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s team,” senior Brett Hesse said of the Pioneer defense. “This team will play great defense non-stop for the full 80 minutes. I knew our defense was great, but I didn’t know [seven straight shutouts] was possible.”
The Providence boys now join the girls’ program as state finalists. The Pioneer boys went to Indianapolis the last two seasons to watch the girls play and win a state championship in 2011.
“After seeing what they did, we were thinking we can do this [and] we should,” Wiles said. “Now they can come watch us and support us like we did for them.”
“We’re showing that the whole, entire Providence soccer [program] is great,” Hesse said. “Great for both the boys and the girls. Now we have a chance to do what they did.”
The Providence boys were supposed to eventually add to the Pioneers girls’ accomplishments. However, with such a young roster, it wasn’t supposed to be until next year at the earliest.
“With our freshman class coming in, I thought we were two, three years out,” Rogers said. “But the fact of the matter is these guys came together at the end of the season. My seniors stepped up and started taking on leadership roles. It was an awesome display of soccer.”
PROVIDENCE 1, FOREST PARK 0 (OT)
After more than 83 scoreless minutes, it was a Forest Park mistake that punched the Pioneers’ ticket to the state finals.
After another Providence attack appeared to be fruitless, Ranger junior Cole Henke tried to blast the ball out of the Forest Park box. Instead, the ball ricocheted off the back of teammate Austin Broom and into the goal.
“Both teams had chances and that’s just the way things happen sometimes in the game of soccer,” Rogers said. “You work to get opportunities and hope one gets in. Our boys were there on the goal putting pressure.”
“Soccer’s a weird sport sometimes,” Hollkamp said. “Anything can happen, but we’ll take it.”
Both teams had several opportunity throughout the first 80 minutes to take the regional title in regulation. However, Wiles and Ranger keeper Blake Altman each made key second-half saves to keep their teams alive.
With 18 minutes remaining, the Rangers’ dangerous attacker Spencer Stermersheim had a breakaway, but Wiles made the save of the day to keep the match scoreless. Six minutes later, Wiles stoned Stermsheim again.
“He’s playing so tough,” Rogers said of Wiles. “He’s like a brick wall back there. I can’t say enough about him. We can rely on him, without a doubt.”
“Jeff came up big the whole year,” Hesse said. “During this postseason, he’s been amazing.”
With 10 minutes left in regulation, Providence freshman Connor Vanhook had a breakaway, but Altman came up big and pushed his shot wide of the goal.
PROVIDENCE 2, OLDENBURG ACADEMY 0
The Pioneers were able to score two goals in the final 20 minutes to pull away from Oldenburg Academy and advance to the semistate championship with a 2-0 victory in the semifinal round.
Providence had the best of the possession in the first half, but scoring chances were even at 5-5 in the opening 40 minutes. In fact, the Twisters had the best two chances to score in the first half, but Wiles made two fabulous saves in a five-second span to keep the them off the board.
Following the contest, Wiles said one of the shots partially crossed the goal line before he was able to scoop it up. The ball must go completely over the line for a goal to be counted.
The second half was completely dominated by the Pioneers. They out-shot Oldenburg 10-0 and put six of those shots on goal. However, at the 20-minute mark, the game was still scoreless.
With 20 minutes to play, Providence junior Logan Rauck attacked Twister keeper Jeremy Kelnhofer down the left side. Kelnhofer stopped Rauck’s initial shot, but Vanhook got the rebound and fed Rauck in the box.
The Pioneer junior wouldn’t miss a second time. His shot went by Kelnhofer and into the net to break the scoreless tie with 19:28 on the clock.
“That was all Connor,” Rauck said. “It was a simple 1-2.”
With 2:56 left, Vanhook made sure Providence would make its second straight Class A Final Four appearance with a bloop over Kelnhofer’s outstretched hands that gave the Pioneers’ an insurmountable 2-0 advantage.
Last year’s semistate finals team was led by a pair of stars in Pierce Crawley and Andrew Wimp. Rauck said the young Pioneers were happy to make their own mark.
“We were able to work together as a team,” he said.
CLASS A FLOYD CENTRAL SEMISTATE
Forest Park 0 0 0 0—0
Providence 0 0 1 0—1
P — Forest Park own goal, 3:17.
PROVIDENCE 2, OLDENBURG ACADEMY 0
Oldenburg Academy 0 0—0
Providence 0 2—2
P — Logan Rauck (Connor Vanhook), 19:28.
P — Vanhook (unassisted), 2:56.